Lionel Messi finally managed one of the few things he had yet to achieve in football.
At his ninth attempt, the five-time world player of the year finally scored against Chelsea, salvaging a 1-1 draw on Tuesday and halting his longest drought against any opponent after 730 minutes.
By cancelling out Willian’s opener, Messi also gave Barcelona a narrow edge in their Champions League round-of-16 matchup heading into the second leg at Camp Nou on March 14.
It was far tighter at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea deploying Eden Hazard as a false nine and containing Barcelona’s energetic pressing before being made to pay for a rare slip in concentration in the 75th minute.
Andreas Christensen, the 21-year-old centre back who displaced 32-year-old captain Gary Cahill from the starting lineup, passed laxly across his own penalty area. Barcelona capitalized. Andres Iniesta beat Cesar Azpilicueta to the ball, skipped past the defender’s attempt to tackle and squared for the unmarked Messi to turn into the bottom of the net. It prevented Barcelona from slipping to only its second loss in all competitions since August.
“We lacked more clear-cut chances, but the good thing is we managed to force an error out of them and score an equalizer,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said through a translator. “We go back to the Camp Nou happy.”
Twice, though, Barcelona had gifted Willian the space to hit the post in the first half. It was third time lucky in the 62nd for Willian, who drifts in and out of the team but was the outlet of Chelsea’s most dangerous moments against the five-time European champions.
The Brazilian was left unmarked just outside the penalty area to receive a pass from Eden Hazard. Sergio Busquets charged forward to block Willian but ended up on flat on his back after Willian shimmied past him.
“We gave too much space to Willian to shoot,” Valverde said. “The pass to him was perfect, the control was perfect. And we just had to get closer to him.”
They didn’t. Willian picked out a gap in the defence to send the ball into the bottom right of the night.
“We stayed compact, had a plan,” Willian said, “and did exactly what we expected.”
Described by Valverde as a “clash of styles,” this was not a meeting of equals.
Chelsea battling for spot
While Barcelona enjoys a seven-point lead at the top of the Spanish league, Chelsea is in a scrap to even secure one of the Premier League’s four Champions League qualification places. Recent damaging defeats at Bournemouth and Watford have left Chelsea with only a one-point hold on fourth place — and no chance of defending its title with Manchester City 19 points ahead.
Now Chelsea, which won its only European title in 2012, has to find a way to at least score at Barcelona next month to secure passage to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2014.
“We have to go there to attack and score because 90 minutes defending at the Nou Camp is an eternity,” said Cesc Fabregas, who joined Chelsea from Barcelona. “It is a suicide mission.”
Bayern cruises past Besiktas
In the night’s other game, Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski both scored twice as Bayern Munich beat 10-man Besiktas 5-0 Tuesday to all but secure progress to the Champions League quarter-finals for the seventh straight season.
Mueller opened the scoring from close range in the 43rd minute after Domagoj Vida was sent off early for bringing down Lewandowski as the last defender. Kingsley Coman doubled the lead eight minutes after the break and Mueller grabbed his second midway through the second half.
Lewandowski polished off the win with two late goals to give Bayern a seemingly insurmountable five-goal cushion ahead of the second leg of the last-16 tie in Istanbul on March 14.
After a promising start, Besiktas’ hopes took a blow when Vida was sent off in the 16th minute. Lewandowski was free after a mistake from Besiktas captain Atiba Hutchinson and Vida had few options other than to bring him down.
Vagner Love fired a great chance over for the visitors, but Bayern dominated chances thereafter. David Alaba’s effort was blocked, then Mats Hummels headed straight at goalkeeper Fabri after a brilliant cross from James.
Mueller gets breakthrough
Just when it looked like Besiktas weathered the storm, Mueller got the breakthrough for Bayern before the break, scoring from close range after good work from Coman.
Lewandowski pulled the ball back for Coman to score early in the second half, and Mueller grabbed his second a quarter-hour later, prodding Joshua Kimmich’s cross in from close range.
Bayern kept pushing for more and Lewandowski was quickest to the rebound when Fabri saved Hummels’ effort late on, before Mueller set him up for his second.
Chelsea drew 1-1 with Barcelona in Tuesday’s other Champions League last-16 game.
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